Young Bulls make strides as Pumas self-destruct in Nelspruit

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Bulls scrumhalf Embrose Papier tries to hit a gap. (Gallo Images)
Bulls scrumhalf Embrose Papier tries to hit a gap. (Gallo Images)

If there was one takeaway from the Bulls' 48-31 victory over the Pumas in a preparation series encounter in Nelspruit, it's that SA Rugby's decision to have 10-day cycles between matches is steadily bearing fruit.

The men from Loftus are clearly relishing the extra time they can now spend on the training field and there's no better illustration of that than to compare this performance with their previous visit to the Lowveld.

On that occasion, a rampant Pumas combination played a young and experimental Bulls side off their feet in claiming a sterling Currie Cup win by 44-14.

There were mitigating circumstances though as Jake White's troops only had a single training session after they had to cram two games in one week due to a Covid-19 outbreak within their squad.

Armed this time with a clear plan and meaningful tutelage on Loftus' B-field, a Bulls combination with an average age of 22 excelled.

Granted, they were assisted greatly by a home side that collapsed under the sheer weight of penalties that they conceded, but there could be no doubt that they came with a plan - one that made liberal use of a dynamic pack of forwards - and executed it well.

The tone was set as early as the second minute, when a careless trip from Pumas fetcher Francois Kleinhans gifted the Bulls the first of a litany of penalties.

They went to touch and hooker Joe van Zyl powered over from a maul.

Buoyed by a promising performance last week against the Lions, where they won the try count 3-2, the Pumas were, at times, sublime with ball in hand.

They responded immediately after that early setback through centres Ali Mgijima and Sebastian de Klerk, who combined delightfully for the latter to scythe through a yawning gap in defence.

Pressure from the resulting penalty saw Kleinhans tone with a try from a rolling maul.  

The tit-for-tat continued when Bulls halfback Embrose Papier's diagonal run created momentum for his team-mates to show patience and nice hands for wing Stravino Jacobs to dot down in the left corner.

But the Pumas once again exploited some tentative tackling, winger Tapiwa Mafura delivering a superb off-load to the bustling Kleinhans, who found Mafura again and tapped the ball niftily to barging lock Brandon Valentyn.

After that, however, the hosts went off the boil as the Bulls, showing composure and skill, exploited virtually every indiscretion by keeping things simple.

Van Zyl (who finished with a brace), Gerhard Steenekamp and Mornay Smith all went over from close range, earning the Bulls the unique distinction of the whole front row scoring tries.

It was one-way traffic until the last 15 minutes as the Pumas self-destructed so badly that mentor, Jimmy Stonehouse, told the television production that what he was witnessing was "ridiculous".

Once centre Marnus Potgieter went over from a quick tap, White sent out the majority of his replacements, which clearly disrupted the flow of proceedings.

That allowed the Pumas to score two tries to bring some respectability to the scoreline, before the Bulls had the final say with a try from the last movement of the match for replacement hooker Janco Uys.

The method?

You guessed it, a rolling maul.

Points:

Pumas - 31 (17)

Tries: Francois Kleinhans, Brandon Valentyn, penalty try, Dewald Maritz

Conversion: Niel Marais (2), Eddie Fouche

Penalty: Marais

Bulls - 48 (27)

Tries: Joe van Zyl (2), Stravino Jacobs, Gerhard Steenekamp, Mornay Smith, Marnus Potgieter, Janco Uys

Conversions: Chris Smith (5)

Penalty: Smith

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